How LinkedIn Impacts The Attention Economy

A tiny red badge can make you feel great. It can mean something wonderful has happened. It can also mean something horrible has happened. The one rule when it comes to notifications is something has to have happened

Picture: © Depositphotos.com/wolterke

Like the boy who cried wolf, LinkedIn has betrayed my trust one too many times. From random work anniversaries to irrelevant birthdays, I've learned to ignore their pings.

Notifications must be essential, or people stop paying attention. It's the same reason why no one puts lawn furniture on a fire escape — it's critical to keep some pathways clear.

An interview request is a great example of a true event on LinkedIn. It's something you want to know about. That needs to be the baseline standard for what qualifies as a notification.

Otherwise it’s like talking to a friend that brags about something that never happened. It creates distance in the relationship. You can't put your guard down because you have to second-guess everything they say.

There's a popular concept called the Attention Economy. Everyone knows there's been an uptick in the amount of information there is to consume. Due to this increase, attention is in high demand. Every app on every device is after your eyeballs and the result is a competitive marketplace.

If you accept this premise, it's as though LinkedIn is selling subprime mortgages. One notification can't wreck the Attention Economy, but a surge of them could do some damage.

That's why it's important for tech giants to be careful with notifications. It's their responsibility to set an example for all the other apps out there.

At least Twitter and Facebook have pages where you can set granular preferences. LinkedIn has a settings page for communications, but there isn't one for notifications.

That's too obvious of an oversight to be a mistake. Their product team made a strategic decision. You can filter their notifications out one by one, but that’s not the same thing.

In defense of LinkedIn, they are still one of the biggest social networks around. Along with Facebook and Twitter, they are a pillar of the modern social media landscape. Within that elite group, LinkedIn stands alone as the professional network.

It doesn't provide fun photos from parties, or breaking news about politics. Even amongst new apps like Instagram or Snapchat, LinkedIn is the professional one.

So it makes sense that their notifications are boring. That's why LinkedIn has to work so hard to manufacture excitement around nonevents. Next to nothing is worth a notification on LinkedIn.

Same with Quora — the educated elite’s response to Yahoo Answers. Quora notifies me every time someone answers a question that’s tagged as an interest. Never mind that I selected that "interest" to speed up my onboarding back in 2009. I swear, every 9 months when I log onto Quora, there’s a backlog of notifications about Barack Obama.

There's a reason why LinkedIn abuses their notification system. It makes their product sticky. A sticky product is one that compels users to log in everyday. This strategy informs product roadmaps throughout the tech industry.

This is because the leading business model in Silicon Valley is Software as a Service. SaaS only works if subscribers log in and engage often. It’s unlikely users would pay a recurring fee for a service they don't use on a regular basis.

When subscriptions plummet, venture capital ceases to flow. That's why it's so important for pre-revenue (yes, pre-revenue) startups to be sticky. It's impossible to monetize a product if it doesn't attract a large number of daily active users.

Even a company like LinkedIn cares about how many daily active users it has. It's an expression of their popularity. It represents the vitality of their platform.

There are great notification systems out there. Apple does a fantastic job with iOS. They list every installed app and provide notification preferences for each. It's an essential part of any modern operating system.

Although it's shady how every mobile developer assumes you want their app to be central to your life. As soon as you sign up, you have to adjust your notifications to make sure they won't wake you up in the middle of the night.

As wearables become mainstream, it's important to recognize how consequential notifications can be. They might crowd our contact lenses in the crosswalk or overheat our glasses on the train. For everyone's safety, let's hope app developers don't abuse notifications in the future.

Theo Miller, Contributor

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